Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Define the Relationship, Smoker Edition

A reader on Mr. Zero's post below on Boxill writes in:
We haven't had a DTR in a while. What is the aim of this blog? I feel like it no longer fills a need and is just a less-trafficked version of other blogs, e.g. DN, PMB, NA. It needs a niche again, in my opinion.
Google tells me that 'a DTR' is short-hand for 'Define the Relationship.' Urban Dictionary tells me, that's: "When two people discuss their mutual understanding of a romantic relationship."

But, I guess I could've gotten to the heart of the reader's question by reading the next sentence: "What is the aim of this blog?" And the last sentence: "It needs a niche again."

I know that I sometimes use it when things get my perpetual rage machine ramped up and when I feel like drawing silly comics. But certainly I can start utilizing it better when I have the time. (Mr. Zero and Zombie, IMHO, do a damn fine job weighing in on current controversies and starting threads and weighing in on comments, respectively.)

What's the consensus? Have at it, y'all!

--Jaded, Ph.D. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On The UNC Academic Fraud Thingy

Via this post at Daily Nous, we learn that
Philosophy professor Jan Boxill was named as an active participant in an academic fraud scheme in a 136-page report issued earlier today [that is, yesterday or the day before] by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill entitled “Investigation of Irregular Classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.” The report details the existence of a number of phony “paper classes.” According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, these “masqueraded as lecture courses but never met, and required only that one paper be submitted.” The paper was assigned not by a professor, but by the department manager, who then “graded the papers, generally giving students A’s or B’s as long as the papers met the assigned length. Many of the papers were plagiarized but still received high grades.” The system was in place for over 15 years.
DN has some juicy excerpts from the report:
In addition to Reynolds’ grade guidance, our email review disclosed several instances where Boxill made specific grade suggestions for her women’s basketball players. ... As to that particular student’s paper, Crowder then said “Did you say a D will do for [the basketball player]? I’m only asking because 1. no sources, 2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to me to be a recycled paper. She took [another class] in spring of 2007 and that was likely for that class.” Boxill replied “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs. I didn’t look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn’t figure out from where.” (p.40)
The third tutor who admitted stepping across that line to some extent was women’s basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill. In our review of Boxill’s emails, we discovered a number of instances where Boxill helped her players by drafting small amounts of original text for their papers. On one occasion, for example, she reviewed a player’s draft paper and emailed it back to the player saying that she had “made a few changes” to the paper. On another occasion, Boxill emailed a player a revised paper and explained that she had “add[ed] some stuff for the intro and conclusion.” She later sent that same player a revised paper for a different class, noting that she “added a brief conclusion which follows nicely from what you have.” (pp.56-7)
The DN comment thread is pretty interesting, too. Some comments were pretty critical of Boxill, but there was also some dissent:
This is way more complicated than you are making it out to be. Many of these athletes were recruited, in effect, to work for the university (play sports publicly so that the university could make money) and with the promise that this path – the path of the athlete – was the key to their future. Their lives are parallel to the normal students’ lives and their responsibilities as students should not be uncritically understood along the same lines as the responsibilities of the more typical student. It is not surprising that these athletes do not take their education seriously. And, there are some grounds for viewing these athletes’ “compensation” of a credential from the university as something they had earned *simply by playing sports for the university* [emphasis added]. So, it is not surprising that some academics viewed the athletes’ educational requirements as somewhat less demanding than the normal requirements borne by the typical student.
Now, I don't want to overplay my disagreement with this, because there's a lot in this comment that I agree with. I think it's abundantly clear that the NCAA is a corrupting influence. There's a lot of money there, and the incentives it provides are all wrong. And I think it's also abundantly clear that the student-athletes are often exploited. They are set up to fail--their responsibilities to the athletic department often don't leave them with the time they'd need to to be academically successful, and so they aren't able to take advantage of the educational opportunities that are allegedly their main/only form of compensation. But then the school has an incentive to maintain the athletes's eligibility anyway, and we're off to the races. It's a serious problem, and in all seriousness it's likely that it's at least somewhat of a problem at your school. If your school takes any form of athletic competition seriously in any way, there is very likely to be some kind of shenanigans relating to recruiting the athletes and preserving their eligibility.

But you cannot solve this problem by doing the student-athletes' homework for them. You cannot solve this problem by helping the student-athletes to cheat on their tests. And you cannot solve the problem by creating fake, no-show classes with no material, no instruction, no requirements, and no faculty involvement. If you're doing that, you're part of the problem. When you give the student-athletes fake classes they didn't take and then fake grades they didn't earn and then fake degrees they don't deserve, that is the corruption. That's what it is.

Now look. I work at a school like that. Athletics are extremely, remarkably, incredibly important here, and I see the corruption, and I don't know what to do about it. I don't know what the right thing to do is. And it's not at all clear that washing your hands of it, and thereby turning your back on students who are being exploited and need help, is the right answer. But a school that makes a policy of awarding academic degrees to student-athletes based on work performed on the basketball field rather than in the classroom has sold its academic integrity, and its plain-old integrity, for sports and money.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, October 17, 2014

Leiter to Step Down as Editor of PGR

I started writing this last week shortly after the news broke, but then some stuff came up and I couldn't finish it for a few days. By that time it was old news, and I decided not to post it at all. But then I reconsidered, because I thought about how much it annoys me that Leiter and his supporters consistently whitewash what he was accused of, with their talk of "politeness police" and the like, as if the problem is that Leiter is too rude for the profession's delicate sensibilities. So then I figured, "What the hell." I wrote it, might as well publish it. So I'm publishing it, and the hell with timeliness. 

Via Daily Nous, we learn that Leiter has reached an agreement with the PGR Advisory Board to step down as editor and join the Advisory Board at the conclusion of the 2014/15 edition of the PGR, at which point Berit Brogaard will assume the role of editor until a co-editor can be found. The fifty members of the Board voted 45 to 0 to approve the following statement:
The 2014-15 PGR will proceed as planned, with Berit Brogaard joining Brian Leiter as co-editor and taking over responsibility for the surveys and the compilation of results, with assistance as needed from Brian and the Advisory Board.  At the conclusion of the 2014-15 PGR, Brian will step down as an editor of the PGR and join the Advisory Board.  Berit will take over as editor until such time as a co-editor can be appointed to assist with future iterations of the report.  After 2014, Berit will have ultimate decision-making authority over the PGR.  Upon completion of the 2014-15 PGR, Berit will appoint a small advisory transition committee that she will consult on possible improvement, both substantive and operational, in the PGR going forward.
I was hoping to see a less centralized editorial structure, but I guess I see this as progress. However, if the editors and board don't make some long-overdue changes to the PGR's survey methodology, statistical procedures, and leadership structure, it will be a really unfortunate waste of an opportunity and a majorly huge bummer.

I also had some quibbles with a passage near the end, which Leiter says is an excerpt from an email from someone on the Advisory Board (other than Alex Rosenberg), who writes:
I really do not understand what is going on.  You used some strong, and arguably inappropriate, language in mostly private communications with people who had criticized or threatened you. 
For starters, that's not what happened. I wonder why Leiter's supporters have such a hard time acknowledging what the objection to his behavior is. The problem with the emails disclosed in the Statement of Concern is not the strength of the language; it is the threatening and abusive content. That is, the problem is what he is doing in those emails, not the language he uses to express himself.

Anyways, back to the excerpt:
The response has been a well-organized attempt to force you to give up the editorship of the PGR.  
Yeah, that's basically right. But it's not so crazy. The argument, as I understand it, is this: Leiter's tendency toward hostility and abusiveness makes him undesirable as someone who possesses a great deal of influence over the profession--that is, in light of his penchant for hostility and abusiveness, he ought to be less influential than he is. It therefore makes sense to attempt to deprive him of some of his influence, and the primary source of his influence is his editorship of the PGR. The only way for this attempt to be successful is for it to be well-organized, so it makes sense to organize it well.
But, as has been repeatedly noted, the intemperate language that has provoked the politeness police had exactly nothing to do with your behavior as editor of the PGR.
a) "Politeness police"? come on. No one is complaining about his being impolite. This is just a bit of misdirection and/or horseshit.

b)  As I just got through saying, it has to do with his capacity as editor of the PGR, if hot his behavior in that capacity. For that is the ultimate source of his influence.
You have consistently let important matters be decided by a vote of the board.  You have scrupulously maintained the confidentiality of people’s rankings.  You have worked hard over many years to improve the methodology and usefulness of the PGR.  
As far as I know, all that stuff is true. I wouldn't say I think he's done everything he could to improve the PGR's methodology--I have some suggestions he hasn't acted on--but he's done a lot over the years to make it much better than it was.
So why is your use of intemperate language any more relevant to your editorship of the PGR than it is to, say, your law school professorship?
For a variety of reasons that I think are easy to understand, as long as you have a moderately subtle grasp of the issues involved. For one thing, Leiter doesn't derive any of his influence over the profession from his status as Law Prof. For another, Leiter enjoys a significant range of freedoms and privileges in his capacity as law prof--academic freedom, tenure, what have you. Now, Leiter owns the PGR, and it would seem that my earlier contention that he is not its king was incorrect. So there's a very real sense in which his freedoms and privileges as PGR honcho are unlimited. But in order to produce the PGR in a responsible manner, he requires the cooperation of (certain prominent members of) the profession, and each member of the profession is free to decline to cooperate. Which is exactly what happened.
Would the politeness police urge that you be fired from your teaching position because you called someone a "sanctimonious ass"? 
I think the answer to this last question is, "no, the so-called "politeness police" would not urge that." For the so-called "politeness police" have not urged that. No one has so much as suggested that. As far as I can tell, the few times this subject has come up, it's been in the context of, "of course no one is suggesting..." So this concern strikes me as falling somewhere in the range between unfounded and nonsensical. No one is threatening his job; they are threatening his status as influential member of the profession, in that influence is derived from his status as editor of the PGR.

So let's just cut this shit out from now on, ok?

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A discouraging word...

As of right this minute, there are 199 job ads listed over at PhilJobs, of which only 132 are tenure-track. (What's with all the department head vacancies?) Given that we are now at the halfway-through-October mark, or the traditional start of the job market season (for you youngsters out there, the APA used to publish an actual newspaper, made of ground up trees, and mailed it via the US Postal Service. Those were crazy times.), that strikes me as not very good.

So, maybe there are stragglers. Maybe search committees are no longer feeling the pressure of that old school October deadline, and they're taking their time. Or maybe this is going to be a bad year for the philosophy job market.

It's pretty lousy in my AOS/AOC too. But maybe better for others.

Commence to analyze minutiae/whine/whinge/grouse/exclaim/cuss/speculate/do a happy dance/whatever.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On The Advisory Board Letters and Leiter's Response

Via Daily Nous, we learn that Leiter has responded to two letters, drafted by Jason Stanley, David Chalmers, Susanna Siegel, and Jonathan Schaffer and signed by a majority of the members of the PGR Advisory Board, requesting that he step down as editor of the PGR. He has also made the text of the letters public. They are as follows:

Letter #1, sent on 9-25-14:
Dear Brian, 
We are writing in our role as PGR advisory board members.  Many of us have been urged in recent days to resign from the PGR board because of concerns about your conflicts with other philosophers.  So far we have resisted those calls, because we think the PGR plays a valuable role in the profession, but we take the issue seriously. 
We all value the extraordinary service you have provided with the PGR.  At the same time, we are worried that the enterprise is about to be damaged irreversibly.  We see that you have floated the idea that you might not run the next PGR, and that this idea appears to have widespread support.  We think that there is a way to proceed without the PGR ceasing entirely. 
Our suggestion is that you turn over the PGR over to new management. Specifically, you could turn over the report to a committee (e.g. of board members), perhaps rotating, who would administer the report henceforth.  You have said that running the PGR is a headache, and the PGR has become a central enough institution in the profession that it does not really make sense for it to be identified wholly with one person.  We think that for a majority of the profession, continuing the PGR under new management would be an option preferable both to the PGR continuing as is and to its ceasing entirely. 
This is our advice, respectfully submitted as members of the PGR advisory board. 
[Names of 30 PGR board members.  Names are omitted as not all board members have agreed to their names being made public.]
Letter #2, sent on 10-1-14
Dear Brian, 
You had said that on Oct 1st you might want to have a more extended discussion. So we want to update you on where things stand. 
Our original letter, which you have seen, was signed by 30 out of 54 members of the advisory board. 
In the interim we have had some discussion among board members of the various options.  The consensus of the board members we have talked to is that we should request that you either step down from the leadership now and relinquish control of the PGR, or at least that you make a commitment to doing so by a specific date in the near future (with the consensus being that something like January 2015 would be the latest appropriate date, though the details could be discussed). 
At this point, 30 board members have endorsed this request.  [N.B. The specific request above is what they endorsed; what follows is our own informal discussion.] 
It is clear that the majority of the board thinks that the only solution is for you to step down.  Of course we recognize that the PGR as it stands is under your control and the decision is yours.  But we do urge that you follow the request of the board.  
The central point is that this controversy, whatever its merits, will seriously undermine our ability as a group to produce a legitmate ranking.  Over 500 people have already signed a statement committing them to boycotting the PGR if you are in control.  Many others who have not signed the statement are waiting to see what happens.  We think that any ranking produced in this circumstance will be seriously compromised, and that the authority of the PGR will be undermined. 
The board's request specifies that you step down from the leadership and relinquish control of the PGR, meaning there should be a leader or group of leaders without your playing a direct or an indirect controlling role (an advisory role would be fine).  Ideally this leader or group of leaders should be appointed by the board, and the board rather than any individual should retain ultimate control of the PGR. 
There are various ways in which this might occur.  In a previous email we suggested the following options: 
(a) You step down from the leadership now. 
(b) We postpone the survey until 2015 while you (publicly or privately) commit to stepping down before the survey. 
(c) You remain on as co-editor for a 2014 survey and publicly commit to stepping down as soon as the survey is completed. 
Our view is that (a) would be best, (b) second best, and (c) third best.  Some board members have said to us that they would find (c) unacceptable.  It is clear that many philosophers (including some board members) would still boycott the PGR under this circumstance, and that serious damage would be done, though less damage than would occur without the public commitment.  Still, many board members say that (c) would be acceptable. 
We are not conveying any of this publicly at this point.  We want to leave room for you to frame your decision in the way that you prefer. It may well be that you were planning to take one of these options in any case.  We think that on all of these options you would secure your legacy to the profession as the creator of a thriving PGR, and as someone who has continually acted in the best interest of students of philosophy around the world. 
Yours in friendship and respect, 
David Chalmers
Jonathan Schaffer
Susanna Siegel
Jason Stanley
Leiter's response, as reported earlier in the same post, is as follows:
I indicated that two of the options mentioned in the letter, both involving my immediate departure from the PGR, were unacceptable:  I have already invested hundreds of hours in correcting and updating the spread sheet with more than 550 evaluators, as well as the spread sheet containing more than one hundred faculty listings.  Any report based on that work is a report I have at least co-edited. 
I have also informed the Board that I am still considering the third proposal, namely, proceeding with the 2014 PGR (with Brit Brogaard as co-editor) while simultaenously [sic] committing to turn over any future PGR to others.  I am also considering two other possibilities:  (4) proceeding with the 2014 PGR (again, obviously, with Brit as co-editor) and postponing any decisions about the future of the PGR until after the 2014 PGR and after the current controversy; or (5) simply discontinuing the PGR altogether.
A number of things about this exchange stand out.

  • It is truly remarkable that a majority of the PGR Advisory Board think that the PGR is weaker with Leiter's continued involvement than it is without. 
  • If the first letter was sent on September 25th, then Stanley et al. must have begun work on it as soon as the September Statement went live on the 24th, if not before. 
    • Which, just to be explicit, means that they also sent that first letter before most of the over 600 additional people signed the Statement.
  • Leiter's response is not responsive. The reasoning is a total non sequitur. The letters are about his future involvement in the PGR, not whether he is to receive credit for work he has already performed. His receiving a co-editor credit is obviously compatible with his turning over the report to new management effective immediately. 
  • Leiter seems to think this is going to blow over--at least, that's what his idea to make a decision "after the current controversy" would seem to indicate. So that means that if this is important to you, it is important to make sure that this doesn't blow over. 
    • I'm not so sure it's going to blow over, anyway. As it stands, well over 600 people have signed the September Statement, and that number continues to grow. That's not a "tempest in a teapot." That's an extraordinary number of people taking a public stand. I think it's unprecedented--I can't think of a time when anything like this happened. Add to that a majority of the advisory board signing a letter urging him to step down. The profession is taking a stand against him, and his own advisory board has joined it. I'm not sure I see how you come back from that. 
  • A number of comments have been left on various blogs expressing skepticism about the purity of the motive behind, or maybe the good faith of, this campaign. After all, Leiter has been like this for years, and nobody said a word until he attacked someone who was popular and well-connected. 
    • I don't think that's really true, though. It seems to me that people have been critical of Leiter's pugilistic and pugnacious persona for years. And this is the third time this year in which there's been a public outcry against some unnecessarily abusive thing he's done:
    • First, there was the thing in comments in Feminist Philosophers where he got into arguments with Matt Drabek, Rachel McKinnon, and the anonymous graduate student whom he advised to leave academia. This caused people to wish aloud for a philosophy news blog other than his, which led pretty much directly to the establishment of Daily Nous. (If I recall correctly--didn't look it up. Do I recall correctly?)
    • Second, there was the thing where Leiter strongly objected, in unnecessarily personal terms, to an attempt by Carolyn Dicey Jennings to study the correlation between PGR rank and tenure-track placement rate; again, there was a fairly significant public outcry, of which Jenkins's blog post was part. 
    • Third, there's this. While the reaction this time is stronger than it has been in the past, it does not seem to me to come out of left field. It seems to me to be a clear pattern of increasingly vociferous responses to his unnecessarily abusive behavior. 
    • And the note he sent to Jenkins, in particular, is over-the-top nasty and completely unprovoked in a way that much of his earlier, more public material, was not. 
  • It seems to me that Leiter has yet to make a sincere apology or acknowledge that these behaviors crossed a line. 
  • I see why he'd want to finish the current/upcoming edition of the PGR before handing the reins to new management. A transition like that is probably a lot of work, and it'll take time to get the new editor/editors up to speed. Making a transition in leadership like that while simultaneously producing an edition of the Report would be hard, especially if it wasn't planned in advance. So I think it makes sense for him to want to finish the 2014 edition before making any big changes. 
  • If he were to discontinue the PGR altogether, there would be no reason why the Advisory Board couldn't immediately undiscontinue it, and reconstitute it with the kind of editorial/organizational structure mentioned in letter #2.
  • It'll be interesting to see how the Advisory Board will reply to Leiter's response. 
--Mr. Zero